International Business Machines (IBM) says it has developed a new battery with technology that doesn’t require the use of heavy metals such as nickel and cobalt, instead utilising materials extracted from seawater. The equally big news is that the battery could outperform lithium-ion in performance as well as cost.

The design features a cobalt and nickel-free cathode and a safe liquid electrolyte, which has a high flash point. In lab tests, researchers at IBM Research Battery Labs’ found that the combination of the cathode and electrolyte was able to suppress lithium metal dendrites during charging, thereby reducing flammability aspects, which is widely considered a significant drawback for the use of lithium metal as an anode material.

This is potentially groundbreaking in the case of EV batteries, where flammability is a concern. The new battery also promises faster charging rates and a high power density. Current tests show that less than five minutes are required for the battery – configured for high power – to reach an 80% state of charge (SOC).

In terms of power density, the company says that the battery exceeds more than 10,000 W/L, outperforming the most powerful lithium-ion batteries available. Tests have also shown the battery can be designed for a long-life cycle, making it an option for smart power grid applications and new energy infrastructures where longevity and stability is key.

Combined with the relatively low cost of sourcing the materials from seawater, the battery and its chemistry could help the automotive industry realise its goal of a fast-charging, low-cost electric vehicle. According to IBM, it is partnering Mercedes-Benz’s research arm as well as battery electrolyte supplier Central Glass and battery maker Sidus to develop the tech and explore its commercial possibilities.